‘No More Mutants’: Superheroes and Over-Saturation
By Phil Boothman.
Critics have been theorising ever since superhero movies became some of the hottest properties in Hollywood that, at some point, the bubble will burst and superheroes will fall out of fashion. With the recent news that Warner Brothers and DC have announced a line-up consisting of ten films released between 2015 and 2020, making a total of 29 superhero films scheduled to come out during this period, it seems as though that time may be approaching more rapidly than some of us first thought. Add to this the plethora of superhero-based TV shows heading to the small screen in the next few months, and the question begs to be asked: is it in danger of becoming too much?
Let’s approach that question by breaking down what is going on with all of the different studios over the next few years, and how they are each approaching things differently.
Marvel currently have 11 films on the docket, including Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Dr Strange, Captain America 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 as well as six more as-yet unnamed movie projects which are suspected to include Thor 3 and Avengers 3 among a few others. They seem to have a clear strategy, which seems to be working for them so far based on the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, of releasing a well-known property such as Captain America alongside a lesser-known one such as Guardians, and they are going for two or three films released every year from 2015-2020, a gradual increase from the two-a-year schedule they were previously working on.
Moving to television, they have the second 22-episode season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. starting in September and a shorter 8-episode run of their new and untested show Agent Carter which is believed to be scheduled to air during Agents’ mid-season break over the Christmas period. Beyond this the Netflix original series Daredevil is currently in production and due to go online at some point next year, and this will eventually lead to several more Netflix original shows including Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and ultimately the crossover Defenders. Whether these shows will have the same market saturation as Agents remains to be seen, but judging by the success of shows like the fourth season of Arrested Development, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, the audience for Netflix original programming is ever-expanding and with the current success of Marvel, new viewers are bound to flock to the service for the release of Daredevil.
One of Marvel’s main advantages is that, in the eyes of the general public, they were the first to attempt any kind of shared universe with crossovers between films, and now television shows as well. This, along with the fact that they are exploring a number of different mediums for their different properties and attempting to keep things fresh by showing flexibility in their distribution, gives them the opportunity for much greater longevity than some of the other studios involved in the superhero boom.
That said, the last few Marvel films have had their faults, and some people argue that there is a clear formula developing for Marvel Studios films which could eventually start to turn off even the most hardcore fans of the franchise. Provided they mix things up and continue to take different approaches to each property, as well as hiring unique directors with recognisable ‘visions’, they may well avoid this, but as the most prominent of the studios involved in making superhero movies they also have the most to lose if the bubble bursts.
With far fewer properties to their name, Fox have just five movies scheduled over the next five years, one each in 2015, 2016 and 2018 and two scheduled for 2017. The next two years will be the big ones for the studio, with the rebooted and retooled Fantastic Four preparing for release in 2015 and the hotly anticipated X-Men: Apocalypse the following year. After that, their plans are largely unclear aside from a proposed Wolverine movie and Fantastic Four 2 pencilled in for a 2017 release and likely another X-Men movie coming out the following year.
While they may have fewer properties to work with, Fox have managed surprisingly well solely focusing on X-Men, and since First Class was released they have shown they are not afraid to take things in a new and risky direction: namely, period-based superhero movies very much tying in to real-world events, and with Days of Future Past it became clear they were prepared to delve into the murky landscape of ‘alternate future timelines’ which Marvel have steered clear of thus far. Days of Future Past was seen by many as a reinvigoration of the franchise, the X-Men’s future on screen seems safe and sound for the time being.
Fantastic Four, on the other hand, seems like a much riskier move for the studio after the relative flops that they produced with the last two films based on the same comic book. Couple that with the fact that the Fantastic Four have a much more niche fanbase and the general uproar that occurred on the internet when the casting choices were announced, and the future doesn’t look too bright for Fox’s other property. However, time will tell, and it is possible that with the addition of Chronicle’s Josh Trank in the director’s chair that the film could be successful, and move away from the standard superhero origin tales we have all come to expect, and be bored by.
Something of an underdog, Sony have not only the fewest properties to work with, namely Spider-Man and not much else; but also the fewest films scheduled for release with just four between 2015 and 2018. The studio have been very clear about their intentions to create a large interconnected universe for their films in much the same way Marvel have done, but with just Spider-Man and related characters to play with they’ve very much got their work cut out for them.
However, the proposed release schedule has some slightly different things going for it: for example, the next movie Sony have scheduled is Sinister Six in 2016. For those of you unfamiliar with the team, the Sinister Six is a group of supervillains who team up to try and kill Spider-Man for good: their roster has changed many times over the years, but current evidence points to the cinematic version including the Green Goblin, Rhino, Vulture, Doctor Octopus, Kraven the Hunter and Chameleon; although this is naturally subject to change.
How Sony plan to pull off a villain-centric movie, but with the talented Drew Goddard at the helm, it could be something interesting, and by taking things a different route and looking at the villains of the world rather than the heroes, Sony could find some success in a heavily-saturated market. The same goes for their proposed Venom spin-off, tentatively titled Venom Carnage and loosely planned for a 2017 release along with a vague ‘female-driven’ movie in the same year: if they continue to look at things differently and approach them from interesting angles, Sony may just be able to find themselves a niche in an increasingly crowded cinematic landscape.
On the other hand, neither of the Amazing Spider-Man films could really be called ‘game-changers’, and they continue to divide fans of the source material. Similarly, the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was called out by many reviewers for already being overcrowded doesn’t work too well in favour of Sinister Six working out, and a Spider-Man based movie with no Spider-Man could be a very hard sell to the public.
I’ve stated before on this site how I think DC are approaching their cinematic universe the wrong way, by attempting to cram too many new characters into their next film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in an attempt to set up a premature Justice League movie, and now things have exploded. Currently DC have plans for ten movies in a period of five years starting with Dawn of Justice in 2016 and continuing with unknown mystery movies for the remainder of the decade: odds are on a Justice League movie along with a standalone Wonder Woman, probably with a Flash, a Shazam and a new take on Green Lantern thrown in there, to name but a few.
Add to this a growing presence on television, with Arrow entering its third season shortly along with the premieres of The Flash, Gotham and Constantine, and you get kind of an insane line-up for the foreseeable future. There are plenty of DC properties that people have wanted to see transferred to the big screen for a long time, particularly Wonder Woman, but whether or not DC have allowed enough time for these movies to be thought out, produced and released is something we simply don’t know at this stage.
One of DC’s major disadvantages, however, is the fact that they have explicitly separated their cinematic and TV universes: this means that Stephen Amell’s version of Oliver Queen and Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen won’t appear in the Justice League movie, and none of the cinematic characters will appear in either of these shows in return. Similarly, Gotham does not appear to be connected with any version of the DC universe thus far established (although it does take place in the past, so it is always a possibility that older versions of the characters we see in that show could turn up in Arrow or The Flash, but I wouldn’t count on it), and Constantine seems to be building its own supernatural DC universe (judging by the appearance of Doctor Fate’s helmet in the trailer).
This is something which could become a major issue in the future, particularly in terms of over-saturation and superhero properties becoming ‘too much’: if the general public is used to Grant Gustin’s version of the Flash zipping around their TV screens and into their hearts, are they really going to want to see a completely different version of the same character on the big screen just so he can appear in a Justice League movie? Naturally it’s only a problem for a small minority of characters, but in separating these two universes DC and Warner Brothers run the risk of repeating themselves, and nothing spells the doom of a franchise more than unnecessary repetition.
The question of whether the superhero bubble will pop and everyone will get sick of all the superheroes on their screens is always going to be a tricky one. Personally, I believe that ‘superheroes’ are not a genre unto themselves, and a superhero movie can exist in any genre: for example, look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was ostensibly a superhero movie but was more of a spy thriller than anything else, and Guardians of the Galaxy can loosely be considered a superhero movie, but is primarily an epic space opera.
However, the sheer volume of comic book and superhero based movies and TV shows scheduled for the next five years is slightly alarming, and does suggest that the general public may reach a point of over-saturation with superheroes, getting bored with the similar stories being told in a different way. But provided the studios approach each property separately and in a unique enough manner, avoiding the tropes and clichés that have already built up in the relatively short time that superhero movies have been in the mainstream, their chances of continuing to stay relevant improve dramatically.
Either way, with no fewer than 29 superhero films released in the next 5 years, it’s a good time to be a nerd!